The consequences of repressed emotions in a relationship
In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you. ― Jane Austen, Pride And Prejudice
(Ir-)repression case study—Jeong & David (Part 1 of 2)
The ghost abandoned.
Crumble to sand.
Pass right through my hands.
We spit and stab at ghosts.
Our walls are full of holes.
Palms out, show me your shaking hands. — Reservoir, “Waves Erase”(link is external)
The Fateful Evening
When Jeong and David met in a subway station in 1999, actual intimacy was, at best, problematic for both of them—Jeong because his traditional Asian background disallowed the idea of an ongoing, intimate relationship with another man; and for David because his history with men had long been one of collecting sex trophies and then moving on to the next quarry. However, from the first greeting, David knew that Jeong was in a different league from the men he was accustomed to meeting. Though ambivalent on both sides, after very few words of greeting, Jeong accepted David’s phone number, hurried away to catch his train, and David expected never to hear from him. David admits, however, that he was aware at the time that if Jeong did call, he would be in over his head.
Jeong did call David, and they met. A carefully regulated something like a love affair ensued over the next year. At the end of that time, Jeong told David he was engaged to marry a woman. Both felt at the time that this blow was the dead-end that they’d sensed was coming all along. People acquainted with irrelationship will not be surprised that, though David was offended by how easily Jeong seemed to put him aside, he also felt relieved presumably because he was no longer faced with the difficulty challenge of directly addressing the anxiety he felt at the prospect of a genuinely connected, intimate relationship which could last a lifetime. Irrelationship shrouded in repression, in other words, doing its best—doing its worst.
For the next couple of years, Jeong periodically surprised David by calling him on his cell phone. Without any other greeting, he would say, “Go to the window.” Jeong would be parked outside, eyes fixed on David’s window. “I just wanted to see your face.” After a few seconds, he’d end the call and drive away. After a time, these calls were replaced by late night drunken calls Jeong made “to hear your voice,” but without allowing any conversation. David felt both flattered and sad in a way he’d never experienced when losing connection with another man. The phone calls finally stopped.
Fast Forward Ten Years
During the summer of 2009, Jeong was inexplicably on David’s mind. He even considered calling him, and decided not to—both out of fear of disturbing Jeong’s domestic life as well as old-fashioned cold feet. Then, out of the blue, toward the end of that summer, Jeong telephoned David. Two months earlier, Jeong had caught sight of David on his bicycle, though David didn’t see Jeong. Jeong had finally worked up the nerve to try David’s landline, still active but never used. Seeing the caller ID, David grabbed the phone. Jeong’s voice sent a not-forgotten thrill though David. Jeong and his wife had separated two years earlier, and that he had been “unable to forget” David, revealing that he had been trying to do just that. Nevertheless, Jeong was uncertain about actually meeting up.
He repeated the phone call two nights later, and within an hour he was at David’s apartment, every detail of which Jeong recalled out loud as he entered.
Within a very few minutes David was shocked to realize that he wanted never to be without this man again. Up to this point in his life, reactions of such clear, decisive longing were not just unknown, but strictly disallowed. Even so, the following two years together were a cat-and-mouse game with the idea of intimacy. They would meet for coffee or lunch, Jeong would increasingly disclose the depth and persistence of his feelings for David, and then, for the next two months, he would repeat his anxiety-driven disappearing act, ghosting on and off. David felt equally anxiety-ridden about reconnecting which he showed in different ways; he had no difficulty telling Jeong and friends that he was head over heels in love.
How Anxiety Nearly Killed David and Jeong
Troubled relationships in his family of origin had taught David from childhood to mistrust and fear closeness to others. Predictably, this had led to decades of compulsive use ofsex, chemicals, or both, to chase away the pain of aloneness that had been a constant in his life. If, in the course of his addictive lifestyle, a man made the “mistake” of showing interest in him beyond sex, David always had fled.
Jeong’s refusal of intimacy couldn’t have looked more unlike David’s. Having always accepted his culture’s homophobic attitude toward same-sex love, he did what was expected of him: he got married, though without even trying to tell himself that he wasn’t gay. For a time he almost convinced himself that he could succeed at buying social acceptance at an acceptable price.
The choices both men made nearly killed them. David nearly overdosed more than once, while the pain in Jeong’s life left him without inhibitions against driving dangerously while drunk. After he left his wife, he was so depressed that he attempted suicide.
Reconnecting was terrifying for both men. For Jeong, meeting again didn’t change the reality that his connection with David was deeply painful and anxiety-ridden. David, meanwhile, continued to experience both pain and relief with each repetition of Jeong’s disappearing act.
Obviously, reconnecting wasn’t a setup for a romantic tale of rediscovering long-lost love: their deep-seated ambivalence about intimacy persisted. They still had a long way to go.
Stay tuned for Part 2.
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